A Valentine’s Read


Valentine approaches. It is a time of gift giving, to express our love with personal presents. Books are ALWAYS appropriate, especially this one. I have read all of Jio’s previous novels, recommended them to many people, and included one as a book club pick as I have never been disappointed. Her books are charming, gentle, thought provoking reads and often have great discussion points. They often provide you with an intense sense of time and place with fascinating indepth characterization and wonderfully descriptive layered stories. They are all great escapism reads too, to continue my 2017 theme. I opened this book with high expectations and great anticipation.Title: Always by Sarah Jio 

Publisher: Random House (Ballantine Books) February 2017 288 pp

Genre: women’s literature, fiction, romance, chick lit, contemporary romance 4.5 stars

Author

Sarah Jio is an international bestselling, award winning author of 8 books. She also is a contributing journalist to numerous publications including the New York Times, O, Glamour, and many others. She has also appeared as a commentator on NPRs Morning Edition. She lives in Seattle and knows the city well. I know little about the music scene in Seattle, but her research is generally impeccable, and she writes hauntingly beautiful prose. I was originally giving this 4 stars, but having read her recent columns for my background research, I was ready to give her five full stars for her continued faith in love. My cynicism is showing, but she has my admiration. I have no doubt she is raising the future Prince Charmings in her three sons.

Story line

I was immediately transported to Seattle, present and past (1996) as the story alternates between these two time frames. Kailey, a newspaper journalist with a promising career is newly engaged to a seemingly perfect businessman, Ryan, who adores her. However, she will always remember her first, true love, Cade. Then she unexpectedly meets him and has to uncover his story. This provides an interesting social awareness backstory of homelessness. There is a powerful mix of heartbreak and hope. It’s an emotional tangle with two good men and impossible choices. There is good pacing, with an element of suspense and good character development. Yes, you can predict the ending, and it’s a little too perfect, but sometimes suspending reality feels necessary. Love is rarely simple, but it’s always worth fighting for. The greater good, humanitarianism, has never been more important. It was a fast read (my kindle said two hours). I’m expecting Tom Hanks in the title role. 

Spoiler: With each new political appointee I wanted her to marry the rich guy and buy the right people, not move to France.

Read on

Especially her debut The Violets of March and The Last Camellia

Lisa Kleypas, Debbie Macomber, Georgette Heyer, Sophie Kinsella

Quotes

To old love and new, but, most of all, to the kind that lasts, always.

It’s true. I’ve long since stopped feeling the ache in my heart that I lived with for so long. I may not have had closure, but I have tasted wisdom.

I know that all I want, for the rest of my life, is this. All I want is this love. I want it every day. I want it morning and night. I want to breathe it in. I want to drown in it. And it strikes me how wonderful and tragic it is that in a sea of people just one can reach you so deeply.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.

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We’re Not Dead Yet!

I am reading a lot of escapism now in the wake of the new president. January devoured 40 books in mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, children’s and much non fiction. Mysteries are great fun, especially by known authors. I have many favourites and always look for their new releases. A fan of Thomas Perry, I have recommended his stories since his debut Edgar award winning novel The Butcher’s Boy (1982). Metzer’s Dog followed and then I loved the Jane Whitefield series. I own most, have read them all, given several away multiple times. I have recommended several of his later mysteries on this blog. I am just delighted to report that his latest novel is fantastic. I read this immensely satisfying tale straight through.
Title: The Old Man by Thomas Perry

Publisher: Mysterious Press January 2017, 352 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller, espionage, suspense. 5 stars *****

Author: Thomas Perry (b 1947) has a phd in English literature (and as they often do, lists employment as laborer, fisherman, maintenance, weapons mechanic, university administrator and teacher. But then it gets interesting with writer, television producer and writer, including Simon and Simon. 21 Jump Street and Star Trek, the Next Generation.) He is an award winning author, having written 24 suspense novels, notably The Butcher’s Boy (series), Metzer’s Dog and the Jane Whitefield series. Recently he has been writing stand alone mysteries/thrillers, although with this novel, I am sincerely hoping he will start a new series.

Story line: This is a dark tale of a former army special ops, who has lived quietly in Vermont for many years, raised a family, while always on alert. And they did come for him. Not just the Libyans, but our own government, in an all too possible scenario. He stays one step ahead of them using his planning, discipline, intelligence and competence. Dan Chase (aka Peter, Harry, Bill…don’t get used to the name) is a very young “old” man (60 retired widower). 60 is the new 30? Actually I am just fine with that this birthday year!

I particularly liked Julian Carson a conflicted field officer and a great pair of trained dogs, Dave and Carol. I wanted more from the ending, and a few things didn’t add up for me, especially the female character. But it was fast paced and clever with several unexpected twists. Given his hiding in plain sight, I expected to see Jane Whitefield too!

Perry has addictive writing, sharp, engaging, tight multi layered plot, with interesting characters. I thought this book was a return to his previous stellar works, although all are worth reading. I would love to see Dan/Bill become a series, would like to believe we have such individuals in the world. As well as have an older hero, whose maturity provides wisdom (and answers). This is great escape reading, perfect for your winter vacation; it also works to avoid winter cabin blues, with the rollercoaster ride providing adrenaline rushes.

Read on: if you like John LeCarre, Geoffrey Household, Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne 

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers series

Quotes: The predicament he had created for himself when he was young had made him aware that life was precious.

Curiosity is a sign of a lively mind. That’s the only kind worth having.

Julian kept walking. He had warned his superior officers. He had told them a couple of times that the old man wasn’t just an old man, like somebody’s uncle.

He was old in the way a seven-foot rattlesnake was old.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover.

It’s (Always) Sherlock Season!

I have many favourite Sherlocks: literary, media, old and new, not the least being Cumberbatch, who I sincerely hope plays Mr Holmes, husband of Mary Russell, as written by Laurie King. The original Sherlock Holmes, the fictional English detective extraordinaire, was created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 (A Study in Scarlet) and has never died. This legendary figure lives on in current literature, television and movies. I have especially liked many of the modern takes, including the short stories of King and Klinger. Each collection has had spectacular tales by some of the best writers of our time: (King, Klinger, Connolly, Bradley, Gaiman, …) Indeed, each volume I couldn’t wait to see who wrote another installment! Every volume has a fascinating, charming, unsettling story for everyone, so don’t miss them. 
Title: Echoes of Sherlock eds Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger
Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, series, short stories, 

5+ stars

Authors:

Laurie R King is a best selling author of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, SanFran homicide inspector Kate Martinelli mysteries, as well as highly recommended stand alone suspense novels. She has been nominated for and won many awards for her writing, (including a Nero for A Monstrous Regiment of Women, (Russell/Sherlock) and a MacCavity for Touchstone, one of my favourite mysteries). Recently, she was awarded an Agatha for best historical 2015 Dreaming Spies! The first Russell/Sherlock is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (1994). 

Leslie Klinger is an American attorney and writer AND an eminent literary editor and annotator, particularly of the Sherlock Holmes Canon. His New Annotated Sherlock Holmes won an Edgar (the annual Edgar Allan Poe awards). Both King and Klinger are Baker Street Irregulars. They have edited three collections of stories inspired by the canon. The previous book in this series In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Tales Inspired by the Holmes Canon, won both the Anthony and the Silver Falchion awards for “Best Anthology”.

Story line:

This is the third editorial collaboration of Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger of newly commissioned tales from somewhere in the Sherlock Holmes tradition or canon. Like the previous collections, A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon, this edition has 18 short stories, memorable, wonderful, intriguing and suspenseful. There are two that didn’t appeal to me but most have widely different takes, so I would recommend reading one or two an evening, savouring each gem. Too many at once dims the appreciation of these unique stories. Enjoy the different takes in Victorian life, fresh imagination, reflections of current Holmes/Watson (PSTD) with complex cases and nasty villains. They all pale in comparison to John Connolly’s (soon to be award winning!) contribution. I have absolute favourites in each of these three volumes and would love to have them in a best of volume! My top three would be Connolly, Alexander, Perry, followed closely by David Morrell, Dana Cameron. Indeed I will be reading more of some of these authors. Several left me wanting to turn the page for continued story. Continue the anthology please! Keep the new stories and varied authors coming. I had no idea so many people would like to try their hand at Holmes.

Read on

A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon. 

Caleb Carr The Italian Secretary

Anthony Horowitz The House of Silk, Moriarity

Laurie R King Mary Russell series

Alan Bradley Flavia deLuce series

Jasper Fforyde Eyre Affair Tuesday Next series

Quotes:

All of which only goes to prove that when one is dealing with Sherlock Holmes, a man “who never lived and so can never die,” physics goes out the window.

Holmes on The Range by John Connolly is both my favourite and the best of this collection. It extends his Edgar award winning novella The Caxton Private Lending Library 2014 in Night Music. Don’t forget to read his first set of unsettling supernatural short stories Nocturne.

The history of the Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository has not been entirely without incident, as befits an institution of seemingly infinite space inhabited largely by fictional characters who have found their way into the physical realm.

Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository was established as a kind of rest home for the great, the good and, occasionally, the not-so-good-but-definitely-memorable, of literature, all supported by rounding up the prices on books by a ha’penny a time.

“I don’t profess to be an expert in every field,” he replied. “I have little interest in literature, philosophy, or astronomy, and a negligible regard for the political sphere. I remain confident in the fields of chemistry and the anatomical sciences, and, as you have pointed out, can hold my own in geology and botany, with particular reference to poisons.”

“It’s not the way I was written. I’m written as a criminal mastermind who comes up with baroque, fiendish plots. It’s against my nature even to walk down the street in a straight line.

Believe me, I’ve tried. I have to duck and dive so much that I get dizzy.”

“By the way, is my archnemesis here?” asked Holmes. “I’m not expecting him,” said Mr. Headley. “You know, he never seemed entirely real.”

He then returned to the bowels—or attic—of the library, and found that it had begun to create suitable living quarters for Holmes and Watson based on Paget’s illustrations, and Watson’s descriptions, of the rooms at 221B Baker Street.

The Spiritualist by David Morrell (where Conan Doyle gets a ghostly visit from Holmes full of family history)

But the great actor, William Gillette, used it as a prop when he portrayed me on stage. It looks more dramatic than an ordinary straight pipe.”

Raffa by Anne Perry is a lovely, charming tale of a 9 year old who needs Sherlock.

He drew in his breath to try to explain to her that he was Marcus St. Giles, playing Sherlock Holmes on television.

Her wide blue eyes did not waver from his. The trust in them was terrifying. Was the real Sherlock Holmes ever faced with . . . but now he was being idiotic.

There was no ‘real’ Sherlock Holmes! “That sounds about right,”

“The things we love matter, whatever they are,” 

“I think you are a lot nicer for real than you are in the stories that Dr Watson writes about you.”

The Crown Jewel Affair by Michael Scott

This once-elegant street was now the cancer at the heart of Dublin, the second city of the British Empire. Crime, perversion and disease were rampant and it was ruled by a series of terrifying women:…

“Mr. Corcoran, there are more whores in this city than in London and Manchester combined. That is because we are a garrison city, a port city. We have English regiments training in the Royal Barracks and on the Curragh, and the quays are busy with British warships and merchantmen from around the world. All those soldiers and sailors are looking for relief.

The Case of The Speckled Trout by Deborah Crombie

I’d never been north of the Border, so as the train gathered speed out of Edinburgh’s Waverly Station I looked out the window with interest.

While I was trying to decide whether I had sold myself into Dickensian slavery—or was destined to be a Scottish Jane Eyre, stuck on the moor with a dour master and a mad wife—the road ran downhill and we were again in the land of green glens and burbling streams

Cooking, it turned out, was only chemistry.

The Adventure of The Empty Grave by Jonathan Maberry (Watson meets Dupin, the first fictional detective of EA Poe)

Dupin was clearly possessed some of the same intellectual qualities as my late friend, but he also had a fair few of the less appealing habits that apparently are part and parcel. Superiority and condescension, not the least.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley, as well as purchased hardcover. Available from Rochester Public Library (and as Ebooks).

Holiday chills and thrills

Title: Surrender, New York by Caleb CarrPublisher: Random House 608 pp August 2016

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, 5+ stars

Author:

Caleb Carr is a military historian and best selling author of The Alienist, The Angel of Darkness, The Lessons of Terror, The Italian Secretary, and The Legend of Broken. He has taught military history at Bard College, and worked extensively in film, television, and the theater. His military and political writings have appeared in numerous magazines and periodicals, among them The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Much of Carr’s fiction deals with violence perpetrated by people whose behavior has its origins in childhood abuse. He looks for underlying causes. These stories are rooted Carr’s family history. And not for the faint of heart.  Carr lived on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, spending summers at his family’s home in Cherry Plain. He know lives on Misery Mountain, in Cherry Plain; currently sharing his home with a Siberian cat, Masha (very relevant to Surrender, New York).

“I wanted nothing less than to be a fiction writer when I was a kid”—Caleb Carr 

Publications

The Alienist (1994)(won 1995 Anthony Award for Best First Novel; 1896 serial killer in NYC)

The Angel of Darkness (1997) (sequel with female serial killer)

Surrender, New York (2016) (modern application of Dr Kreizler’s principles/theories)

Casing the Promised Land (1980)

America Invulnerable: The Quest for Absolute Security from 1912 to Star Wars co-written with James Chace (1989)

The Devil Soldier: The American Soldier of Fortune Who Became a God in China (1992)

Killing Time (2000)

The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again (2002)

The Italian Secretary (2005) (an authorized Sherlock Holmes mystery)

The Legend of Broken (2012) (speculative European historical fiction of the Dark Ages)

Anthologies

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2006). “Some Analytical Genius, No Doubt”. The Ghosts in Baker Street: New Tales of Sherlock Holmes. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) & Chace, James (Essay contributor) (2006). “The United States, The U.N., and Korea”. The Cold War: A Military History. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2003). “William Pitt the Elder and the Avoidance of the American Revolution”. What Ifs? of American History, Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2001). “Poland 1939”. No End Save Victory: Perspectives on World War II.

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (2001). “VE Day–November 11, 1944 The Unleashing of Patton and Montgomery”. What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Carr, Caleb (Essay contributor) (1999). “Napolean Wins at Waterloo”. What If?: The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been. 

Story line:
I loved this book, first read in August during my travel season and then recommended to many people. As I read through my annual book list, it was amongst the most memorable. So I must write about it to recommend it further. Surrender, New York is an up state New York town. It isn’t a return to the Alienist but there are links and threads to the past. This is a psychological thriller on par with two of my favourite authors John Connolly and Ian Rankin. This novel features the detective team of Dr Trajan Jones, profiler, and Dr Michael Li, trace evidence, forensic specialist. It has intricate, detailed, multi-layered plots which give an emotional wallop throughout. Its extremely well researched both historical and present reality. It’s a disturbing tale of teen suicide/murder of throwaway children, corrupt government, conspiracy and power. There’s a lot of evil and we see it here. Trace and Li are unusual heroes, as is the magical big cat, hardly a pet, it definitely a character.

It’s not a comfortable read, but it is riveting, compelling, inventive and amazing. Don’t miss it. 

Quotes: opening paragraph 

The case did not so much burst upon as creep over Burgoyne County, New York, just as the sickness that underlay it only took root in the region slowly, insidiously, and long before the first body was found. My own initial indication that at least one crime of an unusual and quite probably violent nature had been committed came in the form of a visit from Deputy Sheriff Pete Steinbrecher, in early July of that summer. I was then living, as I had been for about five years, at Shiloh, a dairy farm belonging to my spinster great-aunt, Miss Clarissa Jones. Shiloh is centered on a large Italianate farmhouse that is the sole residence in Death’s Head Hollow, one of a half-dozen valleys that lead down from the high ground of the northern Taconic Mountains into the small town of Surrender.

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. 

Available from Rochester Public Library (two copies).

Give the Gift of Reading


As always I’m asked for my annual book list. What I read, what I liked, what I’d recommend. The hardest is to take the list and get the top ten. I just tried that, and have 50 books out of my yearly reads. Which even if I try for 10 fiction and 10 nonfiction, is still 30 more than you want to see. And even then I have 14 fiction with one or two stars as in must reads (34 great reads of 69 fiction books). ALL of these would make great Christmas gifts! I will publish my complete book list for 2016 in a couple of weeks.

Books 2016. Fiction

*Lauren Belfer And After the Fire

*Vanora Bennett Midnight in St Petersburg

*Christopher Buckley The Relic Master

*Caleb Carr Surrender, New York

**John Connolly A Song of Shadows, A Time of Torment

*Lindsay Faye Jane Steele

*Charles Finch The Inheritance

*Craig Johnson The Highwayman, An Obvious Fact

**Laurie King Marriage of Mary Russell, Murder of Mary Russell

Echoes of Sherlock Holmes

*Elizabeth Strout My Name is Lucy Barton

*Will Thomas Hell Bay

E.S. Thomson Beloved Poison

*Charles Todd No Shred of Evidence, The Shattered Tree

*Brad Watson Miss Jane

Science Fiction

**Patricia Briggs Shifting Shadows, Fire Touched

Genevieve Cogman The Invisible Library

YA

*Alan Bradley Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewd

NonFiction

*Stefan Bollman Women who Read are Dangerous

Hayley Campbell The Art of Neil Gaiman

*David Denby Lit Up

**Neil Gaiman The View from the Cheap Seats

Joshua Hammer The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbukt

*Bernd Heinrich One Bird at a Time

** Gabriel Hemery, Sarah Simblet The New Sylvia 

*Adam Hochschild Spain in our Hearts

**Clive James Latest Readings, Play All

** Paul Kalanithi When Breath Becomes Air

Hope Jahren Lab Girl

Nathaniel Philbrick Valient Ambition

*Andrea Wulf Alexander Humboldt: Invention of Nature

You don’t know Jack…

Title: The Jekyll Revelation by Robert MaselloPublisher: 47 North 477 pp

Genre: mystery, thriller fiction, historical, science fiction, fantasy

4 stars

Author:  Robert Masello is an award-winning journalist, TV writer, and a bestselling author. A recent thriller, The Einstein Prophecy was # 1 in the Kindle store. Previous books include Blood and Ice, The Medusa Amulet and the Romanov Cross. He has authored two popular studies of the Occult as well as books on writing. TV credits include “Charmed,” “Sliders,” Early Edition,” and “Poltergeist: the Legacy.” He studied writing at Princeton University under Robert Stone and Geoffrey Wolff. This is my first exposure to him, chosen from netgalley for my obsession with all things literary Scotland.

Story line:  This book has two alternating storylines: in the present storyline are we introduced to Rafael (Rafe) Salazar, an environmental science field officer, who discovers an old green steamer trunk with a flask and a journal that was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, so his past alternates with the present. In August 1888, as the stage play of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was taking London by storm, Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most notorious serial killer in history, struck for the first time. In reality RLS briefly was considered a suspect.

Masello weaves the different threads of action, gothic horror, history, science and science fiction together in a story that grabs your attention from the very beginning. It’s more pulp fiction than I normally read, but it’s a great action ‘film’. I enjoyed the RLS journal entries more than the present day story which included methheads, rednecks, violence and clueless male egos. Perhaps it was also that the women are superficial. Having read several biographies of Fanny Stevenson, Maesello doesn’t portray her well either. But, suspend reality for a day and enjoy the suspense. I suspect I will read more of him, especially with travel season ahead.

Read on:

If you are a fan of Dan Brown, Lee Child, Douglas Preston

Quotes:

Opening paragraph: 25th of November, 1894 From: Robert Louis Stevenson, Vailima House, Samoa To: W.E. Henley, 18 Maybury Road, Old Woking, Surrey, England Dear Henley—What I must tell you now, I tell you with dread. It has happened again. What we thought—what we prayed—we had left behind us in the back alleys and darkened doorways of Whitechapel has, I fear, awakened from its awful slumber. It has struck again, right here, in what I had foolishly thought might be Paradise. And I have been the unwitting agent of its malevolence.

Ever since he was a boy, Rafe had talked to animals; his little sister, Lucy, after seeing the movie of the same name, had called him Dr. Doolittle.
“Tell Stoker he doesn’t need to send any more emissaries. I’m sane as the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

In his hands, he held the journal, but with a kind of reverence now, that he had not initially felt. He hadn’t known at first whose initials they were—RLS—nor had he known who Louis, or Fanny, was. But then he’d read and deciphered more of the text, put it all together, and discovered that the author of the book was none other than Robert Louis Stevenson. The man whose books, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped and The Master of Ballantrae, he’d devoured as a boy.

Reading the book was slow-going—the ink had faded almost to the point of disappearing here and there, and he had to turn the pages with great care or they would shred and fall away from the binding. Stevenson’s handwriting was very peculiar, too—angular and slanted, with a lot of what looked like hasty pen marks, swipes and blottings. Rafe had read all the entries from the Belvedere clinic in Switzerland and he had been especially moved by the author’s attempts to protect the wolf he called Lord Grey from the cruelties of Yannick. On that score, he felt a real allegiance with Stevenson.

What I did not feel, and this was what astonished me even then, even in what should have been an utterly terrifying moment, was fear. I felt instead a burst of exhilaration, coupled with a sensation of freedom and power. I was not the scribbler Robert Louis Stevenson—I was the wolf Lord Grey.

“English gardens,” she said. “All weeds and no flowers.”

What he held in his hands—the seared covers and a handful of dust—was all he had to show for the last words of Robert Louis Stevenson. 

Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley.